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Ask Cael: Youth wrestling, how much is TOO MUCH??

Story Published Monday, September 6th, 2010

name:                  D.J.

question:              Youth wrestling, how much is TOO MUCH?? I am a Youth wrestling coach in Ohio (K-6TH Grade). As I’m sure you know, the wrestling programs in OH,PA & NJ are solid and currently produce a majority of the nation’s top ranked high school wrestlers. This is mainly due to the level of intensity, support and enrollment at the youth level. It is common to see kids start wrestling at Kindergarten and 1st grade, as a result the competition by 3rd&4th grade is fierce (9 yr. olds w/4-5 yrs. experience). My question is, at what age do you feel is good for a kid to start attending wrestling camps? We all want our team to do well but in my opinion youth wrestling is more about laying the foundation for high school and college. It’s great to have our young kids make it to state,(camps would help them get there) but I’m concerned about ‘burning them out’ by wrestling 5 months then hitting summer camps.


You are correct in that youth wrestling should be more recreational and preparing kids for high school and college wrestling.  I think it depends on the individual kid just how much you push them.  As long as the kid is having fun and doing it because he or she wants to, they will have much better chance for long term success.  As a coach or parent if you can at least help the young athlete think it is their idea, that will help.  I do think it is an advantage for a kid to start participating in sports early in their lives.  It just has to be in under the correct mind set.

I didn’t go to more than one tournament a summer until I reached the 15-16 yr. old Cadet level.  Before that my dad took my brothers and I to one tournament each summer called the Western Regionals.  The Western Regionals included the 11 western states.  It was a big tournament.  We trained hard for it and did one week of wrestling camp to prepare us.  I played baseball, swimming, football, and soccer in the off-season until I got into high school.  In high school, I only played football and wrestling.  I couldn’t play baseball with all of the Spring freestyle wrestling tournaments.

The opportunities today for kids are much different.  There are national tournaments every month it seems.  Kids can watch elite level wrestling and technique online.  That is all great and I hope this all results in a group of better technicians so we can compete better internationally.  They wrestle better competition more consistently.  My best move probably until I was 5-6th grade was a chin whip, not the pinnacle of technique.  I know my dad taught defense first to his young wrestlers and I think that is the way to go. However like you suggest, without the right attitude, these younger technicians won’t make it to the international level.  It doesn’t matter how technically superior someone is if they don’t love the sport and love competing.  That is a point I try to get across to our team is that attitude comes before technique.  A lot times wrestlers get frustrated and blame technique when what really beat them was them was their lack of attitude.  Attitude is 1, and technique is 2. 

So back to the point,   I have referenced this study before on Olympic athletes.


By Tim Gibbons, Researcher and Tammie Forster, USOC Athlete Development

•             Most Olympians reported a 12 to 13 year period of talent development from an introduction to a sport until making their first Olympic team. In addition, medalists were younger in age during the first five stages of athletic development than non-medalists, and it is likely that medalists were receiving motor skill development and training at an earlier age. This suggests that physical activity and motor skill development during childhood and early adolescence may be an important part of an Olympian’s overall development. There are individuals who transcend the average developmental period; however, the data suggests that a long period of training, education, and nurturing are needed to develop Olympic-level talent in most American athletes. These findings are supported by other research, specifically, Ericsson et al (1993) and Bloom (1985), that suggests a minimum of 10 years of intense preparation and deliberate practice is needed to become an expert performer within a talent field. 

•             Many coaches and parents grapple with the idea of having their children specialize in a sport at a young age; however, encouraging findings from the questionnaire indicated some Olympians participated in as many as four sports during their childhood and teenage years. During the teenage years, the time Olympians were involved in multiple sport activities, is when they were becoming competitive at the junior and senior national level. This dispels the myth that early specialization is necessary to be successful.

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